Super Bowl Sunday has become a de facto national holiday that draws wide participation from all segments of American society. Usually the most highly rated TV broadcast, the final game of the NFL season draws the highest single-day betting handle of the year.
Back at the start, in 1967, betting options were limited to basically just which team would cover the game and possibly some halftime lines. Even Totals were a year or two away from being standard offerings. Gradually those options were expanded but the most significant development began with Super Bowl XX in 1985 in which the heavily favored Chicago Bears faced the New England Patriots (well before the dawn of the Brady/Belichick era).
William ‘‘the Refrigerator” Perry was a defensive lineman on the 1985 Bears. Generously listed at 325 pounds, the “Fridge” was a larger-than-life character who would occasionally line up as a blocking back for the great running back Walter Payton. He actually had five carries for seven yards during the regular season but two of those carries resulted in touchdowns.
Fearing a Super Bowl blowout, some books offered odds on whether Perry would score a touchdown. After opening in the range of 15- to 20-1 and bet down to as low as 4-1, the wager attracted widespread attention.
Perry scored a touchdown. The sportsbooks lost on the wager but that wager became a “loss leader” as it spawned an entirely new industry.
For more than 30 years the introduction and expansion of what are universally referred to as “props” (propositions) has been significantly responsible for the explosion of Super Bowl handle to new record highs on almost an annual basis.
I classify props into three main categories. The first category I call “tandem props” which are wagers that are connected but not necessarily correlated and often have no relation to how you believe the game will unfold.
The second I call “head to head props” which offer just two options for a given prop. The third category I refer to broadly as “needle in a haystack” prop (more commonly known as ‘index’ props) that offers more than just two options and have several subcategories that will be discussed shortly.
An example of a tandem prop is whether each quarterback’s first pass will be complete or incomplete. Generally the “complete” is favored by about 2-1 with the “incomplete” priced in the vicinity of +170. I play the “incomplete” each year, needing to hit just one of them to profit. In effect I am betting against both first passes being complete.
An example of a head to head prop would involve whether the first score of the game will be a touchdown or a FG/safety (an Event A vs Event B prop). Another would be whether a certain player will have more or less than a specified number of rushing or receiving yards (an “over/under” prop). And yet another would be whether a certain event such as a successful two-point conversion will take place (a “yes or no” prop).
The needle in a haystack prop could, at its extreme, involve wagering on the exact number of points the Chiefs will score with options from 0 to “50 or more” with each specific points total carrying separate odds. Last year the Rams were priced at 500-1 at the South Point to score exactly 3 points (which they did in their 13-3 loss to New England).
A less extreme version of the prop would include the player to score the first or last touchdown in the game. Usually there are between a dozen and two dozen options offered.
A third type would be a prop that would offer fewer than 10 options such as the combination of the first half result with the game result or the combination of the team to score first/last and ultimately win/lost the game. This latter prop is worth considering if you have a strong opinion on the how the game will unfold with just four options that generally range in odds between 2-1 and 4-1.
Many professionals will seek to exploit “middle” opportunities by, for example, betting the Over initially on props they expect to be bet higher with the intent of later betting the Under on that same prop at a higher number.
Often those middles occur at the outset as different books post different numbers on the same prop. For example, the Westgate opened the total rushing yards by San Francisco RB Rasheem Mostert at 80.5 while William Hill opened that same prop at 70.5.
Professionals are also willing to risk a lot to win a little. They have no problem in laying -900 that there will not be a safety or -1400 that there will not be overtime while the public at large is more willing to take the +600 that there will be a safety or the +800 that there will be overtime.
Much more often than not the pros are on the winning side of the prop despite there being a trio of safeties over the past decade and the Super Bowl three seasons ago featured the first overtime.
But the professionals are wagering thousands of dollars each on many of the props they play while the vast majority of us are playing for far less stakes.
My approach is to look for props that are +120 or higher and have little connection to how I think the game will unfold. As I noted above, I play the ‘incomplete’ portion of each quarterback’s first pass attempt. I will also play the first score of the game being other than a touchdown which is generally priced at +140 or so.
My belief is that “true odds” are hard to figure for this uniquely singular game that has a small data base of just 53 prior games developed over a half century that has seen many structural and strategic changes.
Using regular season games or other playoff games is not a satisfactory means of comparison for me. The linesmakers have a tough job in setting lines for many props. Counter to this point of view is that, especially to the professionals, the Super Bowl is ‘just another game’ and they will treat it as such, using the historical data, percentages and odds they use in approaching other games.
Finally, there are several key points to consider when playing props so that you get the biggest bang for your betting buck.
Look to play props at Sportsbooks that offer a 20-cent line rather than a 30-cent line for competitively priced props (where the minus part of the prop is priced at -150 or lower). That is, a 20-cent line will have an “evenly priced” prop at -110 for each side of the prop. A 30-cent line would have that same prop priced at -115 each way.
Be sure to read the “fine print” attached to a prop. There are often key differences or conditions at different Sportsbooks on props that appear similar or even identical. Often these will relate to conditions that might result in a refund (i.e. “No Action”), whether events that occur in overtime are counted as part of the second half of the game results, etc.
Understand that for the most part the “public at large” (i.e. casual or once-a-year bettors, will tend to think in positive terms and will thus gravitate towards playing “Yes” rather than “No” and “Over” rather than “Under.” Thus the intrinsic value in most props will be on the “No” and the “Under.”